More media horrors from 2007

Literature is alright, still

— Heading of Guardian column by Maya Jaggi, one of the judges of the 2007 Orange prize for Fiction, Guardian, 13 Dec 07.  But the booby prize no doubt goes to her sub-editor.
['"[A]ll right' is right; "alright" is not all right (but note the Who song, much loved by generations of headline writers, was The Kids are Alright)' — Guardian Style Guide,,,184844,00.html]
But the next president, whomever that may be, will have even more IOUs to redeem than Bush…
— Edward Luce, 'A High Price to Pay', FT magazine, 1-2 Dec 2007

In reneging on that tradition, the Government risks alienating a large section of the pubic sector.
— Bernard James Luckhurst, 'The Government is alienating the public sector', Letters, The Times, 13.12.07

The US media is gripped by election fever (Heading)
The mainstream media dances dutifully… (Gary Younge, Guardian 5.ii.07).
["Media… is the plural of medium but is sometimes used in the singular when it refers to the communication media: press, radio, TV; this usage is not generally accepted."  Peter Harvey, A Guide to English Language Usage for non-native speakers.
"When in doubt, use the plural." Robert Burchfield, Fowler, third ed.]

During Brown's 10 years as chancellor he did nothing to reign in Britain's status as a tax haven for non-domiciles…
Guardian letter, 28 Dec 07

General Pervez Musharraf… made little secret of his contempt for the civilian politicians whom he believed had nearly ruined Pakistan.
— Jason Burke, Obituary of Benazir Bhutto, Guardian, 28 Dec 07

The former Lady McCartney, Heather Mills, yesterday denied reports that she is planning to write a sex manual…
— People, Guardian, 21 Dec 07

"Too many people are still flaunting [sic] the law and endangering lives by using their mobile [sic] behind the wheel."
— Jools Townsend, road safety charity Brake, quoted in Guardian, 21 Dec 07

It is the Christians who are … fermenting an outraged sense among the mainly secular population that they had better call themselves Christian…
— Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 21 December 07

No doubt there'll be more and worse in 2008.  Happy and literate new year to all contributors!

8 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    "Alright, still" is the title of an album by ghastly mockney trustafarian Lily Allen, so I imagine the phrase has the same exemption as the Who’s earlier example.

  2. I maintain my lifetime’s loyalty to ‘alright’. As I may have said elsewhere, how otherwise do we show the difference between, ‘The answers were alright’ and, ‘The answers were all right?’

    That apart, I agree that these departures from conventional usage are unacceptable in professional writers, and indeed all of us who are rash enough to put finger to keyboard. In, ‘During Brown's 10 years as chancellor he did nothing to reign in Britain's status as a tax haven for non-domiciles…’, however, perhaps the writer intended ‘everything’ rather than ‘nothing’, even if the rest of the sentence then goes a little awry.

    Brian writesBarrie, you have confessed to your 'alright' habit before, without any sign of appropriate contrition, and I daresay[1] it's a bit late to try to reform you now; anyway, everyone should be allowed one eccentricity, I suppose.  However, you can't get away with the defence that 'alright' is necessary to avoid ambiguity:  in the examples you offer, no-one would dream of using 'all right' in the sense of 'so-so', 'not too bad' in reference to 'the answers' (we would all say something like "The answers weren't too bad"), so the only possible meaning is that every one of the answers was correct. I think I'm in respectable company if I stick with Fowler, quoted in the online OED: 

    There are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often MS.

    I'm baffled by your comment on the tax haven quotation, where the blunder is 'reign' where 'rein' is obviously intended — one of the Grauniad's famous homophones (although the 'rein in' metaphor is anyway objectionable, even if spelled right, being both dead and inapposite here).   Perhaps your comment suggests that Our Gordon has in fact done a lot to curb the use of the UK as a tax haven, in which case the disagreement is purely on the facts.

    [1] 'Daresay' as one word is recognised by the OED ("In this use now sometimes written as one word, with stress on the first syllable") and (with some reluctance) by Burchfield's Fowler. 

  3. Matt says:


    I think you may be wrong in your assertion regarding use of the word "media".

    The article I pasted below implies that this very recent addition to the English language can be used:
    1) Both in the singular and plural.
    2) That it is also fine to use "medias" as a plural.

    But since the word is a Yankee invention I think we should be OK with it and not go the whole nine yards in debate. Hopefully the caucus of Ephems readers can powwow; agreeing that we generally like US contributions to our fine, shared language. 🙂

    Origin: 1921

    Until the Roaring Twenties, a medium was a person, not a publication, and media–well, there wasn't such a thing. The medium would set bells ringing and tables hopping in a darkened room by conjuring connections with departed spirits. And media was just an obscure Latin plural of medium.

    Then came modern advertising and a sense of media that had nothing to do with the sphere of the spiritual. Suddenly in the advertising world it was smart to speak of placing ads in different media, or in one particular media, the word being used as a singular as well as a plural. This new media has been traced as far back as a 1921 play by two smart members of New York City's Algonquin Round Table, George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. In advertising, the new plural medias also was coined. Advertising professionals were reported in 1927 as stating, "It was finally decided to allot a definite media to each member," and touting "one of the best advertising medias in the middle west."

    The original means of mass communication were print: magazines, journals, and newspapers. A collective name for them was already available: publications. Then radio and television were added to the mix, and publications would not stretch to fit. Needing a term to encompass them all, we borrowed media from the advertising people and have used it ever since, ready to accommodate newer media like the Internet. We have also used the term to refer to journalists as a group or the communications industry as a whole. How else could we put it nowadays than to say that the media have a profound influence on our lives?

    Brian writes:  Matt, thanks for this.  But I stand by my story.  I accept that there exists a hyper-permissive school of thought which regards the use of 'media' as a singular noun as having nowadays been legitimised by [ab]usage.  But in my view that verdict is heavily outweighed by that of those, like me, who think otherwise, including the Guardian's own style guide, the even more authoritative Economist style guide, which recommends avoiding the word if possible, using 'press and television' instead, but goes on: "If you have to use the media, remember it is plural";  the yet more authoritative Oxford English Dictionary, online edition (and therefore up to date):

    "media, plural of MEDIUM n. 4d. Cf. MASS MEDIA n.
    The use of media with singular concord and as a singular form with a plural in -s have both been regarded by some as non-standard and objectionable. Cf.:  1966 K. AMIS in New Statesman 14 Jan. 51/3 The treatment of media as a singular spreading into the upper cultural strata";

    Also Hart's Rules, which states categorically that the word is the plural of 'medium'; and Burchfield's Fowler's Modern English, which doesn't even recognise the singular use, even as an error, but sites it firmly as a plural.  

    By the way, the article that you quote is wrong to assert that until the 1920s, the only meaning in use for the word 'medium' and its plural 'media' was a person claiming to be able to make contact with departed spirits:  the word's sense of a channel or channels of communication goes back to the 19th century, as the OED definition and first few examples demonstrate:

    Medium: A channel of mass communication, as newspapers, radio, television, etc.; the reporters, journalists, etc., working for organizations engaged in such communication. Freq. in pl. with the. Cf. MEDIA n.2
    [1850 Princeton Rev. Jan. 131 Our periodicals are now the media of influence. They form and mould the community. 1851 Househ. Words 13 Sept. 586/1 The act-drops of more than one of the minor Parisian theatres yield a handsome revenue by being converted into expansive advertising media.] 1921 G. S. KAUFMAN & M. CONNELLY Dulcy 18 Bill. I buy the Saturday Evening Post. Sterrett. But speaking generally of the other media….

    Even those who have no Latin should be able to hear the plural character of the word 'media', if only by knowing its derivation from the familiar word 'medium' with its numerous senses.  Its use as a singular noun is and will long remain an affront to the most minimally sensitive ear or eye;  and the plural of a plural, 'medias', is an abomination of desolation.  I agree that many Americanisms are welcome additions to our shared language, enriching it and giving it much colour and flavour;  this, however, isn't one of them, as I believe many American friends would agree.

  4. Tim Weakley says:

    Matt, what is the origin of  'the whole nine yards'  – is this a reference to some sport, American football perhaps?  Or the length of the course for peanut-pushing-with-the-nose championships, as described many years ago by Beachcomber? Or was it the case that in the days of the duello, experts stood at least  nine yards apart, whereas novices with the pistol were allowed to stand closer together so that they had a fair chance of winging their opponents?   Just curious!

    Brian writes:  I'm sure Matt will enlighten us, but meanwhile you might like to look at

  5. Matt says:


    My understanding was that it is American term (along with OK, caucus and powwow) from American Football. Although Wikipedia has just cast doubt on that! 

    Not forgetting, of course, that "the meaning of a word is its use in the language".
    Or, indeed, "
    When I use a word… means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."



  6. ‘Alright’ is close to the end of the journey that similarly constructed words have already completed. 

    I’m inclined to row back a little on ‘media’. It, too, is in the middle of a journey which, at its destination, will turn it into an unremarkable singular noun. Because a word was plural in Latin does not mean it need remain such when anglicised. Who now thinks of ‘agenda’ as plural?

    My suggestion that King Gordon may have reigned over a régime in which those who were both rich and dodgy prospered was, as I feared at the time, much too laboured (or perhaps not Laboured at all).  

    Brian writes: Forgive me, Barrie, for not following you into the game of predicting which ghastly abuses of the language will eventually achieve respectability through sheer ignorant repetition.  The task, as I see it, is to identify abuse when we see it and to do what little we can to retard its potential progress to the promised land.  As for King Gordon "reigning" in a status, forgiveness for having failed to decipher your intended jest may be in order here, too.

  7. "Brown’s reign is ‘a family affair." Headline in today’s Sunday Times.

  8. Peter Harvey says:

    Thank you for the mention of my book. The status of media is a tricky question. I feel that it is (or should be) moving not so much towards singular status as towards use as a group noun (such as government, team army, etc.), which can take a singular or plural verb according to the perception of the speaker in the particular utterance in question. Nevertheless, given the plural nature of the media, I would like to see this reflected in the way the world is used. There is also the point that in other languages the words for media (and data) are unquestionably and unalterably plural; my comment was written with this in mind to warn speakers of such languages that they might find media as a singular noun in English but that such usage should not normally be adopted.

    Your point about people using ‘their mobile’ is clearly correct – for English. But it is a good example of how what is obviously logical in one language is not necessarily so in another. In Spanish that singular use would be correct provided that each person was using only one mobile. In the case of a mobile phone, that is obviously the case; but in Spanish you would say that your visitors took their coat off and then took their shoes off because each person takes off one coat and two shoes.

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